Joyful Women! Thanks for Being You.

This one’s gonna be quick. Because my belly is rumbling, and I need to wake up my slumbering husband and pup-dog, and I have a lot to do in this gorgeously chilly day ahead of me. Let’s cut to the light.

For a while now, I’ve been admiring the joyful people. You know, those ones who despite difficult circumstances seem to always be shining with lights and rainbows and mysteriously non-trite expressions. Those seemingly well-put-together and fabulously optimistic, wise personas who plague your existence with their fervor and light-heartedness? Yeah, I’m probably talking about you. Or Caroline. Or Rachel. Or Gina. Or Jenna. or Erin. Or Caitlyn. Or Ayschia. Or… you get the drift.

I have so many positively fantastic upbeat, joyful women in my life who put my complaining and moaning and “woe is me” attitude at times to shame. And they do it unknowingly with a smile and skip in their step, as they frolic through forests of lavender and juniper and sunshine. They seem to exude thankfulness, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, gentleness, encouragement, laughter, tears.

Wait. Errrrrrr [hear screeching of tires]. Scratch. There it is. Tears.

These women… fantastic, amazing, gifted, inspirational, God-fearing women are also experienced with tears. Those who I so admire and enjoy have been through trials, deep ones. They know pain – anxiety, anger, betrayal, sickness, isolation, grief. They’ve known sorrow. And, their joy, I’m increasingly realizing, comes not in fields of ease but is born out of trenches of struggle, the mire, the muck, the heart-wrenching fear, the depth of understanding, the resurrection of hope, the restoration of the redeemed, the knowledge that for those who hope in the Lord, goodness always triumphs over evil. That for every tear, there is dancing in the future. For every fear, there is peace washed over. For every hurt, there is manifold good, offered and promised and held for the right timing. There is peace. And with knowledge and peace comes contentment. Joy. Light and fervor and beauty.

There is pain, but there is hope.

So, I’m going to read Job.

And Psalms.

And if my future posts have some darkness, some lamenting, some “woe is me” mentality, give me some grace, and don’t worry too much about how I’m doing, because I’m going to read through the story of a man who was tested and scourged and stripped of everything but his Lord, and how he came out the other side with joy and favor. Plus some Psalms expressing emotion all over the board [my personal speciality]. Let’s just feel all of those feelings.

And hopefully, prayerfully, I’ll learn more about joy and light and beauty. Because that is the character of the God I serve, and He binds his people to himself with covenant promises of which I cannot ignore. He always restores his people.

And he gives me ridiculously beautiful women of joy as signposts to remind me of those promises: that he is good, always, and he will turn our mourning into dancing.

So, joyful women: thanks for being you.

And here’s too many (though somehow not enough) photos of some said women (and just as redemptive, men).

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And I Will Draw Near to You

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College is such a formative time. I developed relationships with dear friends, met my gift of a husband, discovered my career path, and felt the Lord alter my worldview through my experiences and his Word. And, in the midst of it, I encountered Jesus.

If you didn’t read my last post, I’m on a journey of thinking through God’s intentional hand during my youth and beyond. It’s fun and challenging and introspective… just my thing… and it will be used at my new work, which is even more wonderful.

After my sixth grade summer when I “found” Jesus, I discovered I had many questions. How do you do this alone? Isn’t that what happens: now I retreat to my bedroom with my dusty Bible, and I read? What changes? What’s this whole Christian thing look like, and how do I navigate it? What if I don’t feel it anymore, that spiritual high? What now?

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I was so very thankful to be surrounded with girls who also were seeking to know the Lord and who liked to have a clean good time. We had a blast and kept each other out of trouble. From 6th-12th grade, these girls grounded me and grew with me, and we discovered more and more who we were. Believe me, we made plenty of mistakes too. We were lazy and self-focused; we were gluttonous and jealous; we were fearful and petty at times. Yet, the Lord was faithful; He always is.

In the summer before my 8th grade year, from a hard wooden pew in an old, well-loved chapel, I rededicated my life to Christ, a new surge in my faith. After that summer, I spent at least two weeks every June or July at that same incredible place called New Life Ranch.

And it was.

New and full of life…and every year, I found new spring in my step and song in my heart. I cried out to the Lord, sang silly songs, prayed fervently, danced often, and learned how to serve like Nehemiah, lead like Moses and David and Paul, help, claim, dig deep, and be thankful. This camp is where I seemed to find myself every year: the rocks were my thinking place, the West 40 my place of praise, and the cabins where I was privileged enough to grow with dear friends and eventually minister to young girls. My safe place, my inspiration…

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My sophomore year of college was particularly transformative for me. Whether I knew the labels or not, I was wrestling through the imaginary sacred and secular divide. There were voices in my life telling me that some of the things I loved were ungodly – punk and hip hop music, going dancing, reading certain books and spending time with certain people… and though I had a history of trusting some of these voices, I felt torn. I understood the idea that spending more time with God and his words meant spiritual growth for me, and yet I couldn’t shake the height and happiness of my soul after laughing with my sorority sisters at a party, the way that my heart broke as I heard musicians crying out and declaring their emptiness, the beauty in the brokenness, the pull I felt toward it. I desired to know more of the world, to find out what was so “bad” and how to feel more alive, to throw myself into a feeling and a rhythm and story… to be free.

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Throughout that year, a lot changed for me and in me – too much to explain in this brief post – but by May, I went back to New Life Ranch with a host of punk, rock, and indie CDs, a strength and deeper understanding of who I was, an even deeper love for my wonderful and spunky sisters, and a certainty of God’s provision and call on my life, and He started speaking to me about baptism. When I say speaking, know that I don’t mean audible words in my ear from the Lord, but I do mean that he spoke through others and through his Word. I kept reading and hearing and seeing baptisms, and I started digging into Scripture to see what it was all about, and what resulted was that He affirmed me in my search. I prayed and felt the assurance both inwardly from the Holy Spirit and outwardly from family and friends that it was time, and it turned out, about seven others were ready too. So, we all went down to the river on a Sunday.

A few of my dearest friends and a host of New Life Ranch staff stood around me as we went one by one and explained why we felt called to baptism that day. I tearfully choked through my convictions – that God had been tugging on my heart, that I had a renewed love for Him, and that I knew that although I was already firmly His, it was time to show it outwardly and answer the call, to consecrate my life for Him.

When it came to be my turn, I waded into the creek that I so dearly loved, shaded by a few beautifully arching trees overhead, and Scott Shaw placed one hand against my back and the other clasped over my wrists. I let go and fell backward, held firmly by Scott’s hands and the support a few of my dearest friends. The cool water rushed around my back and over my face as my body submerged, and seemingly just as quickly, the direction of force reversed as I was pulled back up, gasping for New Life air. Whoops and cheers and praise filled the skies, and after a few hugs and possibly the biggest ear-to-ear smile of my life, I stepped aside for the next staffer’s life-altering moment.

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I encountered Jesus that day through my community and my commitment. I drew near to Him over the years, and I felt Him drawing still nearer and nearer to me. I pulled the Lord close like a cloak of protection and a redeeming liberator, and He became real for me, intertwined with my heart, and I couldn’t help but to keep drawing nearer, the Lord growing dearer. His love for me was relentless, His call on my life impossible to be ignored. Still to this day, that was a powerful moment in my life that helps to define who I am as a beloved daughter and believer. My words are too finite to express what happened in my soul that day, but I knew that it was a turning point and a right one.

During that time in my life, I clung closely to a few verses, but Psalm 139, specifically the last two verses (23-24) were on my heart. I was ready to be led, and my rebellious heart was relenting and reforming. With my Lord nearer and my vision clearer, I walked out of the water and into the days ahead, and the Lord encouraged me and hemmed me in. He knew me full well and loved me despite, seeing me clean and robed in righteousness that I did not deserve. And that kind of love is worth dying for so that you might be given new life.

And I was.

New and full of life and hope.

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

2You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

7Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

8If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

12even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

13For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

15My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

17How precious to me are your thoughts,a God!

How vast is the sum of them!

18Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you.

[…]

23Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

From Stodgy to Saved

Recently at work, I was asked, “When did you encounter Jesus?” Along with our theme for this year’s chapel at WCA, I will apparently be one of many teachers and students who will be interviewed on camera in order to play a short clip of our story at chapel for the kids. And if you know me at all, you know I’ve got some reflecting and word-smithing to do on my own before I’m ready to speak in front of a crowd, or in this case on camera (eek!). Attempting to alleviate some awkwardness, I’ll lay my thoughts down here as part one of three. Apologies to friends whom I am about to embarrass.

The first time I recall encountering Jesus was the summer before sixth grade. My incredible friend Caroline (over at In Due Time) invited me to her youth group. I had most likely been complaining to her about my church, which I now realize was fairly spiritually dead. We said words, we sang hymns, and we went through the motions, but there was little to no faith-life there, at least for me. My brother and I had both been falling asleep in church, and our wonderful mother began to fear that we would lose our interest in faith altogether. So, she said hesitantly said yes. I don’t remember much, but I do remember a flurry of activity – the painted walls of KYF, the hum of energy, the uproarious laughs, and the seeming lack of adults. We were in a room filled with kids, and there seemed only to be a few adults in the room, and they weren’t signaling for anyone to sit down or shut up; the adults were mingling with and among the kids, laughing, talking, snacking… What? This was not my definition of youth gatherings at church. Where were the dingy tables, dull lights, worksheets, dusty books, empty hallways? And goodness, the boys in the room were reallllly cute. I liked this place.

IMG_0809 IMG_0826 After an absurd game of lining up and passing bananas over our heads with our feet (our pre-pubescent posteriors arching over our heads), some type of talk began to which I didn’t pay much attention, and then eventually, more talking, laughing, flirting, goofing off… I came home and said that I loved it.

Caroline continued to invite me to church, and as we spent increasing frequency of time together, that relationship and others deepened into great friendships. Erika, Jenny, Raelyn… I was surrounded by beautiful, silly, and yearning souls like mine who were already growing into incredible Godly women. We talked, and laughed, flirted and goofed off, decorated Bible covers, taped in book tabs (probably from Mardel’s), and learned to pray. Still, I came for the fun, the games, the boys. I came for Caroline and Erika and Jenny and Raelyn and Ashley. I came for myself.

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IMG_0824Then, one day, I sat on the KYF carpet in the back of the youth room, cross-legged and eyes wandering, observing and taking in the room, and I heard a woman’s voice grow ever stronger in my ears. Susan Grapegater, who happened to live across the street from Caroline with Mr. Grapengater and their two kids, from whose yard we had retrieved many a poorly aimed soccer ball, in whose house we had youth meals and Superbowls, whose incredibly creepy Halloween haunted house drew in neighbor kid after neighbor kid every year, spoke. She spoke with love and fervor and kindness. I don’t remember the words, but I do remember the feeling. I remember her smile, her knowing glance that seemed to focus on me out of all sixty-some kids in the room. I remember a click, a shift in my heart, an openness, a willingness to lend an ear. I stared at the rough carpet speckled in color, and I felt a nudge, a fearful and wonderful call. She asked us to bow our heads and pray with her. I didn’t know how to respond, but I bowed my head, and I listened. And that evening, after going home in bewilderment, I realized what that call was, and stumbling over the words I had heard again and again and again at KYF that summer, I bowed my head in my bedroom and I asked the Lord to come into my heart and save me. And he did. I encountered Jesus. And when I opened my eyes, it seemed as if everything and nothing had changed all at the same time. I resolved to tell Caroline, but beyond that, I looked around my room at my walls and the life that had been built around me and felt a sense of awe and uncertainty. I realized suddenly that someone else was in control, a partnership of sorts. It was God and me now… and I thought, “What now?”